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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Some complexities of caring for graves

Graves and other underlying issues

'Friends Not Forgotten'

Intro: Presently, our Vets are exploring ways to coordinate a Canada wide program aimed at restoring and caring for NWMP, RNWMP and RCMP graves.

I was asked by Ottawa Vet Alex Geddes to provide some input. This is my report.

Hi Alex,

First, thank you for advising me of the effort to renew old graves and markers, etc.

I thought I’d mention a few other considerations for your deliberation; this is not the final eulogy on the topic.

1. Many hundreds of graves of the NWMP have been found and photographed by volunteers especially in Alberta, but there are many which have not yet been found simply because there hasn’t been a coordinated push on to find them until the National RCMP Database was born. Now, there is a lot more interest, but more volunteers are needed to actively search for graves.

Conclusion: As of today, the entire body of NWMP graves have not been found. But, we are much further ahead today then we were a few years ago before the database.

2. Cost will be a major consideration if the Vets want to become responsible for the grave renewal program. The job is simply huge. Many graves are easily accessible, for instance in Calgary, but having access to some graves in isolated spots or on private property will make the task harder and more costly.

Conclusion: We might say that the majority of NWMP graves are located in larger centers, but in fact they are spread over several dozen cemeteries.

3. Replacing markers is just the starter. Most or many of the old NWMP graves are in need of repair – to repair or buy new ones will require a comparative analysis. Perhaps they all ought to be replaced with modern materials to better withstand the weather.

Conclusion: Some NWMP markers in good shape --- the big, tall, granite ones which some Officer’s families could afford. But, the majority of NWMP graves which we know about are faded so that the name of the deceased and bio data is difficult to read. Maybe black etching is required...but again, this will be a major undertaking and costly. Repainting a grave requires a professional touch—I suggest it’s not a summer project for students.

4. Many NWMP graves have wooden crosses versus granite. The wooden cross will have to be replaced as they are in need of replacement or repair.

Conclusion: Replacing the wooden crosses will add more costs.

5. As a broad statement, the majority of NWMP, RNWMP graves require some/full repair. Even if the stone marker is in fair condition, the plot might require work...small fences, seeding or the stone’s base/foundation is sinking into water, tilted or slipping into the cemetery ground.

Conclusion: Repairs to the stone markers is one small portion of the project. In many hundreds of cases, the foundation for the marker also requires work. I suppose this is the work of grounds people -- I would be surprised if the cemetery has grounds people on loan to our Vets --- rather it will become an additional cost to hire people. Recall too, that hundreds of graves, especially in the Maritimes are in small, church cemeteries. In these cases, our work will have to be coordinated with local folks.

6. Even some Force grave markers in large urban cemeteries are in poor (faded or moss covered) shape. There are some exceptions. But, one particular cemetery in NS is embarrassing to members – especially in the heat of the summer. Cemetery care takers do not pay any more attention to RCMP graves than anyone else’s – either the family shares the responsibility or members and Vets will have to be caring for them.

Conclusion: Grave work has to be ongoing, regular, consistent and worthy. Hundreds of graves might only require a minor cleanup; a brush and some water. Many of the old NWMP grave markers have moss growing on them, but it’s not a difficult task to clean them. Some volunteers carry cleaning kits with them in the car trunk. The chore is twofold, clean it up then take a fresh photo.

7. Back to the issue of unaccounted graves – old NWMP graves are continually being found as they have become buried under earth, leaves, etc.

Conclusion: Grave work is investigation work. Vets have to be patient in the quest to find graves. The job requires investigational techniques, library searches, town halls, churches, computer searches, etc. Some volunteers bite the bullet and pay for web sites while others find their answer in different ways. Some old obits give clues with regards to relatives.

8. Hundreds of graves have incorrect data on them. Spelling errors, incorrect ranks, incorrect names, incorrect dates and the list goes on and on. Someone has to be willing to pay for the costs of these grave markers also. There’s been a good effort to identify the graves with errors on them.

Conclusion: It’s costly to repair a grave stone; a spelling mistake or any kind of an error.

9. Alex, I think this repair program requires a Canada wide approach with the cooperation of many levels of government. Fundraising will be required as governments today want others to share the cost. Governments require a good plan; then they ask to be shown the cost sharing arrangements.

Conclusion: Perhaps a Canadian firm, bank, investment company would be the principle funding source. Vets have to invest their time also.

10. Our cemetery in ‘Depot’ also requires work as many grave stones need some sort of repair. Record keeping requires work. Commissioner Nicholson’s grave comes to mind as it has become discoloured. I’ve been working with the two daughters of Comm’r. Nicholson in Ottawa to find a contractor in Regina to replace his stone. It was a photograph which I had taken of Comm’r. Nicholson’s grave that made the daughters feel so bad about the poor condition of his stone. I have no idea for the reason that it had not been previously reported. As well, you will note on my site that deceased Deputy Commissioner Eves is identified as a Commissioner. His flat marker ought to be repaired?

Conclusion: I had a call this week from an Officer in ‘Depot’ about the National RCMP Grave Database. ‘Depot’s uses the databank frequently because their graves are all identified on the website. Alot of work has already been done for them by our Vets. But, ‘Depot’ intends to go one step further; they want to map out their cemetery property and pin point where all 800 to 1,000 graves are precisely located so that no one digs in the wrong spot. ‘Depot’ also wants to computerize all the locations...maybe GPS?

Final remarks. Much more can be said. Much more can be done. Much more money is required. Much more cooperation is required among Vet Divisions. I am willing to work as an advisor to you on more ideas...there is alot of enthusiasm in the field among Vets, families and friends to coordinate the graves project which I think is memorable and worthwhile. Most Vets, I believe are not compensated for their efforts but this situation may vary from Division to Division.

Final, final remarks. In a short time Alex, I will be announcing the discovery of the remains of a very senior Officer. He’s been lost. The Officer has been forgotten. The investigation to find this Officer has taken months, but finally tonight I can say that he’s been found. I mention this as one example of many other ‘ole timers who have been forgotten or overlooked. We’re not sure where they lie – especially members who passed away before 20 years service.

*The dead and small children have one thing in common: they prefer not be lost. Everyone lost wants to be found.

Yours truly,

Joe Healy

'Maintain Our Memories'

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Dear Friends,

Thank you for your note. Please be assured that I will reply, but some e-mails require a little more research and time or reflection. If your comment hinges on policy for graves, the e-mail may have to be referred to the RCMP for an authoritative response.

*You may check this blog for your e-mail as well as my reply.
Yours truly,